My heart sank yesterday when I saw that American Airlines is restricting the number of segments permitted on award travel.
The new one-way limits include:
- Domestic USA + Canada: Three  segments
- Other destinations (including Puerto Rico + US Virgin Islands) Four  segments
Gary lays out nicely why this policy change is so disappointing and cites specific examples in which the segment limits makes award travel from a small city to a small city virtually impossible.
Put simply, American Airlines offers such poor award availability on its own flights that 2-3 connections are often necessary simply to get to an international gateway. Thus, this new segment limit serves as a penalty for AA’s lack of award space and arcane routing rules that prohibit many natural routings like flying to Asia via Europe.
The Anti-Matthew Rule
Here’s the thing, though. AA awards were actually quite generous in two ways. First, AA allowed (and still allows) you to exceed the maximum permitted mileage (MPM) between two city pairs by 25% as long as there is a published route between the origin and destination. Second, AA had no segment limits prior to yesterday.
And while most people are horrified at the thought of unnecessary extra segments, some people (like…ahem…me) relish them. They truly relish them.
Last year, I wrote about flying from Mumbai to Reykjavik the “scenic” way, pointing out that under AA’s routing rules the following routing was permitted as as single award:
- Mumbai to Abu Dhabi in Etihad First Class
- Abu Dhabi to Bahrain in Gulf Air or Etihad Business Class
- Bahrain to Doha in Qatar First Class
- Doha to Paris in Qatar First Class
- Paris to Helsinki in Finnair Business Class
- Helsinki to London in Finnair Business Class
- London to Reykjavik in British Airways Business Class
How? Plug BOM-AUH-BAH-DOH-CDG-HEL-LHR-KEF into Expert Flyer:
The MPM from Mumbai to Reykjavik is 6,994 miles. My routing above is 8,167 miles. Since 25M (25% above the MPM) is 8,742 miles, the routing was validated by the AA system.
I ended up booking a slightly less convoluted routing, but not by much:
- Mumbai to Abu Dhabi in Etihad A380 First Class
- Abu Dhabi to Bahrain in Etihad Business Class
- Bahrain to Amman in Gulf Business Class
- Amman to Kuwait City in Royal Jordanian Business Class
- Kuwait City to Doha in Qatar First Class
- Doha to Paris in Qatar A380 First Class
ExpertFlyer also indicated this routing would be less than 25% over the MPM. Sure enough, I spoon-fed this routing to AA agents, the system validated it, and I ticketed it. I’ll get to this trip report sometime in the fall. Obviously, it involved unnecessary backtracking.
So I can see why AA would choose to limit routing based upon my own award booking history (I have other examples…). But let’s be real — this routing was too much even for many hard-core AV geeks at Frequent Flyer University. I doubt even 1/100 would ever go out of their way to book something like this.
I call the new AA rule limiting segments on awards the “Anti-Matthew Rule” and truthfully I don’t fault AA for cracking down on routings like the two I presented above. But I do have a huge problem with the fact that poor domestic award space on AA will make awards more expensive for anyone traveling from a small city in the USA to a small city in another part of the world. AA could simply have enforced its existing rule to take the most direct routing possible. I could have flown from Mumbai directly to Paris non-stop on Jet Airways but chose to add in five additional segments. Others don’t have that luxury and add segments by necessity. Now they’ll be punished.